Thursday, June 15, 2023

Ulaanbaatar, not what I expected.

 My flight arrived at Chingiss Khan Airport outside of Ulaanbaatar at 730AM on June 1. Mongolia is known at the land of eternal blue sky. It was raining. So much for that! This actually was the only rain we had during this trip. I have to admit I was terribly jet lagged on this day, so my memories are a bit fuzzy. I don't remember passport control or customs, so I assume they were easy. I exited and met out guide, Serjie (I am positive I am misspelling her name!) and two of the other tour participants, Max and Rami. Both of the them live in Vancouver. Sergie is a lovely Mongolian woman, very vivacious and knowledgeable about Mongolia. She was very welcoming and happy to have us. She advised that we would stop at Kempenski Hotel and pick up the fourth participant, Robert, who had been in Ulaanbaator for a couple of days already. 

Traffic can be brutal there, but we didn't have too much trouble. June 1st is a national holiday, Children's Day, so a lot of people were off work, but there were also a lot of people in the town celebrating.We picked up Robert, who is from New York, and headed out to sight see. Like I said, I was really jet lagged so I am sure I am missing somethings and might have stuff out of order. I was very surprised at how large and modern Ulaanbaatar is. I knew there was a lot of Soviet influence in the city, but that is being heavily over-shadowed by booming construction. New office buildings and high-rise apartments are springing up everywhere. Some American fast food places, like KFC and Burger King were visible, but Sergie said they do not have McDonalds.

We parked and walked to the Gandan Monastery, the largest one in Mongolia. It was incredibly beautiful, with the center point being the Golden Buddha Statue fof Migjid Janraisig, which stands at 26.5 meters. It is not the original statue, which was dismantled by the Soviets in 1938. It was rebuilt in 1996. It was very impressive! We then went to a different part of the monastery where the monks were worshiping. The smell of juniper burning permeated the air. The colors of the monk's robes and the beauty of the objects adorning the walls and shelves were a bit overwhelming. It was a wonderful experience.

We had lunch and then went to the city square which is dominated by the parliament building, with its massive statue of Chingiss Khan, better known in the United States as Genghis Khan. Before the trip I read a book recommended by a couple of friends called Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World. This book had a big impact on me, completely changing the way I thought about GK and the Mongolian empire. It is well worth reading! The square was packed with people celebrating Children's Day. There was a massive carnival going on and the kids were having a great time.

We visited the National Museum of Mongolia, where I learned a lot about the history and culture of the country. We then checked into our hotel for the evening. We got settled and then went out ot a nearby restaurant, where we had "hot pot." The table has convection burners at each diner's place, where a pot of boiling broth sits. Different meats and vegetables are brought out and you cook what you want in the broth. It was fun and very tasty. I sucked at using chop-sticks and even had trouble with a fork! The rain had cleared and we had a nice sunset as we settled in for the evening.

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